“I got you a coffee,” Aaron barked from his bench. “Isn’t that enough for you?”
Holly lowered her mask, took a long sip of coffee to both warm herself and wash down any bitter words she would have hollered back at her best friend, and then returned her mask to the ready position.
It was New Year’s Day and, as expected, it was bitterly cold down by the river. Holly shivered and carefully weighed her next words.
“Coffee isn’t enough,” she growled back. “I refuse to start off the new year by bickering with you. Not after the year we just survived. Now explain why you dragged me down here, and maybe I’ll stop acting so out of character.”
“Isn’t the fact that your best friend asked you to be with him explanation enough?” he countered with a sadness in his usually commanding voice.
Aaron took a long sip of Snapple, and stared at the bottle like it was the most interesting thing on Earth.
Holly knew him well enough, however, to understand that the long stare was his go to move to avoid direct eye contact when there were tears or a lack of self-confidence welling up in his eyes.
Holly mentally reprimanded herself before she replied.
“Like there’s a disturbance in the Force,” he added with a chuckle.
Holly had to laugh. It was a relief to have the tension suddenly banished. They never fought, and mere bickering between them made her nervous. She didn’t have any relationship stronger than the one with the weirdo sitting on the other side of the path, and it was one she never wanted to lose. Regardless of how he pushed her buttons.
“So spill it,” she urged. “It’s not getting any warmer and I’m almost out of coffee.”
Aaron shrugged and looked across at his best friend. “You know I’m usually perfectly fine riding out a holiday alone, watching TV, and getting some writing done. But today, for some reason, the solitude of it all got to me. I just didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts because they kept drifting off to sad places…”
Holly’s first reaction was to run across the path and give him a big hug to remind him that he wasn’t all alone, but she remembered that such behavior would be a serious violation of Aaron’s strict social distancing protocols. So she restrained herself.
“Then I’m glad you called,” she assured him with a warm smile that he couldn’t see because of her mask. “Do you want to tell me about the sad places?”
He shook his head and took a long sip of his Snapple.
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her. He just didn’t want to drag her into the maudlin chaos that dominated his thought process. Not on a holiday.
“Well, if you can feel safe acting stupid around anyone, it’s me, right?” she asked and winked.
He chuckled and his body relaxed. Clearly at ease now, he let out a long sigh.
“I just wanted to make a vow to not be this sad next New Year’s Day,” he shared.
Holly felt a tear well up in her right eye, but she fought it back. If she made a big deal about his letting down his guard like this, he’d never do it again.
“I’d say that’s an excellent statement to make today,” she agreed. “And it doesn’t even count as a resolution. Just a promise made between friends.”
“Best friends,” he reminded her.